By Ellson Quismorio
For Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur 2nd district Rep. LRay Villafuerte, the delayed distribution of cash aid to Filipinos during the COVID-19 pandemic has left a bad taste in the mouth.
“This unfortunate delay has struck a sour note in the implementation of what is billed as the government’s biggest social protection program in the country’s history,” Villafuerte said Sunday regarding the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), a key feature of Republic Act (RA) No. 11469, also known as the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
The lawmaker gave this statement ahead of the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability’s investigation Monday on the SAP, particularly on the distribution woes and on the accountability of the implementers.
Expected to be grilled in the inquiry are officials of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
Under the program, some 18 million low-income families were supposed to get cash assistance worth P5,000 to P8,000, depending on region, per month for two months (April and May) amid the public health emergency.
“In fact, the SAP distribution has been so held up to the point that the DSWD started distributing the second tranche only in mid-June,” added the Bicolano congressman, who is a member of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) on RA 11469 and co-chairman of the Defeat Covid-19 Ad Hoc Committee (DCC) social amelioration cluster.
Monday’s inquiry is based on House Resolution (HR) No.973, which is authored by nine House leaders including Villafuerte and Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano. The measure was filed last June 15.
Preceding it was a steady stream of remarks from solons expressing their disappointment on the way the cash aid has been released to beneficiaries. Cayetano had earlier criticized the DSWD for choosing to listen to its regional directors instead of Congress and local government officials when it was formulating the SAP list.
“The original sin of not coming up with a better list spiraled into many problems,” he said.
Villafuerte recalled that he had raised concerns about the “cumbersome set of rules” drawn up by the DSWD in April, which he feared could delay the release to the P5,000 to P8,000 assistance. The Bayanihan law was enacted on March 26.
“At the rate the DSWD is taking its own sweet time in implementing a cumbersome set of rules on how the emergency funds are to be downloaded to LGUs, it may probably take a month before the target beneficiaries are finally able to get the first tranche of their cash transfers,” he said in a statement last April 1, when a good portion of the Philippines was under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).
“The last thing that these poor and low-income families need at this time when the economy is at a standstill is DSWD-style red tape. Every single day of delay means another day of hunger for many of these target households,” he said.
The authors of HR No.973 identified four main problems in the SAP distribution. These are 1) the adoption of a “complicated” 30-step SAP process from the selection of qualified beneficiaries to the actual release of funds to the chosen recipients; 2) the requirement of Social Amelioration Cards (SACs) that were “too long, tedious and intimidating” for the intended beneficiaries to accomplish; 3) “arbitrarily” basing its “restrictive’ master list of target recipients on the 2015 national consensus, which caused discrepancies between government data and those of LGUs that were realistically based on the latest figures of community residents; and 4) failure to “coordinate closely’ with LGU executives on project implementation.
The SAP as designed under RA 11469 allowed for payout after only 10 to 15 days, the authors said.